Why Now? An Update from London: #1

I’m devoting nine months of my career to learn something new. (I’m currently in London to earn a Masters’ degree in Historical Architecture and Sustainability with NYU.) Why am I doing this?

I’m deeply concerned with our contribution and response to global warming:

In Western Europe, the Rhine River, normally 15-20 foot deep, dropped to five feet in August, requiring increased shipping traffic carrying smaller loads. [1]

In the U.S., the Colorado River’s two immense reservoirs – Lake Mead and Lake Powell – water levels are at just 28 percent of total capacity because of the river’s diminished flow and increased demand. [2]

Lake Mead Flickr
This photograph is a snapshot of diminished water levels at Lake Mead. Photo via Flickr.

In California, January, February and March 2022 were the driest winter months on record (which date back over 100 years) with just six inches of precipitation observed across the Sierra Nevada. [3]

The damage humans cause to the planet may have accelerated with the industrial revolution in Britain in the 19th century, but it has mushroomed in the U.S. in the 20th century and is now exploding in other developing countries.

I’m saddened to see vital communities and forests destroyed by unregulated, mercenary development claiming to be green:

Bangkok Thailand David McKelvey Flickr
In Bangkok, Thailand, waterside slums line the river as new buildings tower behind them. Photo by David McKelvey via Flickr.

There is a Japanese tradition that asks for the structure made of wood in new construction to endure at least as long as the life of the tree that was cut to provide it. Japan deforestation began during the 17th century. Reforestation has increased since World War II with ongoing tree plantations. Yet, Japanese manufacturing companies have also been known to exploit weak logging regulations in countries like Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. [4]

Papua New Guinea Deforestation Mokhamad Edliadi Flickr
Deforestation in Papua New Guinea. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR.

I’m puzzled at the missing rigor in the building sciences:

According to the EPA, “a new, green, energy-efficient office building that includes as much as 40 percent recycled materials would nevertheless take approximately 65 years to recover the energy lost in demolishing a comparable existing building.”

The Crystal London Tom Bullock Flickr
“The Crystal” sits within East London's regenerated Royal Docks, designated a Green Enterprise District. Originally commissioned as an exhibition center and think tank, it reopened in 2022 as London’s new City Hall and the home of the London Assembly. The all-glass building challenges conventional ideas on sustainability, championing the use of advanced technology to minimize energy use. Photo by Tom Bullock via Flickr.

Our most revered evaluations of sustainable building practices omit statistics on environmental costs to extract, transport and fabricate the heavy metals in photovoltaic solar collectors, for example. Try researching the history of ingredients in closed-cell foam insulation, or concrete or dual-glazed windows. And where are transport costs calculated?

LEED Checklist Markup. E1663092416556

I’m hungry to experience the craft and art found in older buildings and invest it in new structures:

We have always cared for and defended buildings we love. Why are they loved? My current theory is that they were loved, deeply, by those who designed and built them. I might be proven wrong. But that’s what learning does.

Gamble House Wikimedia
The Gamble House in Pasadena, CA – an iconic example of Craftsman architecture designed by Greene & Greene in 1908. Photo by Cullen328, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m excited to learn from history of our successes and failures and to apply these lessons in my team’s work. Let’s do this together!

If you are interested in hearing more about my studies, follow along on Instagram.